Trump and Pence to visit flooded Louisiana as governor warns against ‘photo op’
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his running mate planned to visit Baton Rouge on Friday to survey the damage after recent deadly floods in Louisiana, sources with knowledge of the trip said, despite calls from the state’s governor advising against any touring of the area.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards’ office said Trump had not called to discuss plans to visit, but that the New York businessman was welcome to volunteer or make a sizable donation toward helping victims.
“We welcome him to (Louisiana), but not for a photo op,” the statement said. “Instead we hope he’ll consider volunteering or making a sizable donation to the LA Flood Relief Fund to help the victims of this storm.”
Some 40,000 homes were damaged and least 13 people died after a deluge of more than 2-1/2 feet (0.76 meters) in what has been described as the worst U.S. storm since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic rival in the Nov. 8 presidential election, said in a Twitter post earlier this week she was closely monitoring the situation and directed people to the Red Cross.
Representatives for Trump’s campaign, which canceled a roundtable discussion on immigration in New York to make the trip, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump and Indiana Governor Mike Pence were planning to meet with families in the flood-hit areas, according to Fox News. Television footage showed Pence and his wife speaking with officials after landing on the tarmac in Baton Rouge.
Some people in the southern state have urged U.S. President Barack Obama to cut short a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard in order to visit Louisiana and view the devastation. Obama’s vacation is due to end on Sunday.
Edwards, a Democrat, said he urged the president to wait a few weeks before visiting as the huge security undertaking involved would interfere with recovery efforts.
“It is a major ordeal,” he told MSNBC late Thursday, the same day U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson met with Edwards to see the emergency response.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate defended Obama’s decision not to visit.
“We still have response operations going on,” Fugate told CNN in an interview. “To move the president into a disaster area actually takes away some time from the response and the focus on” saving people.
Fugate has said he talked with Obama this week about the response. The president has also declared it a federal disaster, freeing up emergency resources.
In 2005, then-President George W. Bush, a Republican, drew criticism for flying over extensively damaged New Orleans, Louisiana, and then giving a speech in the still-flooded city following Hurricane Katrina.
Although waters have receded in many deluged areas, some areas around Lafayette, in the southwestern part of the state, are now experiencing major flooding as the water moves, according to the National Weather Service.
Edwards has said some 86,500 people have already filed for federal aid following the historic levels of rainfall, and FEMA staff have been on the ground processing claims.
Thousands of people must now contend with flood-hit homes, and many have lost almost everything they owned. About 4,000 people were in shelters, according to state officials.
The Red Cross has said recovery efforts will cost at least $30 million.
(This version of the story has been refiled to fixe date in dateline to August 19 from August 20)
(Reporting by Ginger Gibson in Charlotte, North Carolina, Susan Heavey in Washington and Fiona Oritz in Chicago; Additional reporting by David Alexander in Washington; Editing by Bernadette Baum)